Fears Grow More than ‘Vacationing Terrorists’ Who Freely Enter, Exit Syria

Terrorists who shuttle back and forth to battle in Syria may possibly pose the next massive threat to the West, in accordance to U.S., European and Russian intelligence officials.

Intelligence professionals inform NBC Information that Islamic militants act nearly like vacationers as they travel back and forth to the world’s most energetic conflict zone, the place they are being qualified to carry out attacks the 2 within and outdoors the war-torn country.

Turkey is a favored staging area because it gives the militants with comparatively simple entry to the battle zone and permits them to come and go practically at will, mixing jihad with R&R in Europe, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials, who briefed NBC Information on the risk on condition of anonymity.

While they are in country battling Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, the officials say, these fighters frequently are drawn to the most radical components of the Syrian opposition -– groups like Al Nusrah or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq. These groups are believed to be education radicals at camps close to Aleppo in lawless western Syria for operations in that country and elsewhere, they stated, including that the particular nature of the risk is not clear.

Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center and now an NBC News analyst, mentioned that some leaders of al Qaeda also are leaving their longtime strongholds in Pakistan and Afghanistan for Syria, in hopes of instruction the subsequent generation of jihadis.

“The motion of more senior AQ leadership from outside the region is undoubtedly correct,” he mentioned. “I also consider it is undoubtedly accurate that these individuals, in addition to many other individuals with the ISIL, are certainly seeking to use Syria as a secure haven to launch attacks outdoors of Syria.”

A new video released final week by the Syrian rebel umbrella group The Islamic Front (Ahrar al-Sham) added new assistance for that view, exhibiting jihadis coaching for “specific missions.” The extremely developed video, titled “The Lions of War Training Camp,” is becoming utilised largely as a recruiting device, reviews Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant with Flashpoint Partners and an NBC counterterrorism analyst.

Although the pattern of instruction new recruits in an ungoverned land extends back to the al Qaeda coaching camps in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, there are important differences in Syria that fret counterterrorism officials.

The most significant is the geography. Obtaining to Afghanistan was hard. Getting into Syria is significantly significantly less so. The gateway to the fighting in Syria, the city of Antalya in eastern Turkey, is 2,000 miles closer to Europe than Peshawar in Pakistan, portal to Afghanistan.

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Accommodations in Antalya are also better than people in Peshawar, the officials note, that means sojourns away from the battlefield are far less difficult to organize than, say, booking a vacation in Bora Bora from the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan.

An additional variation is the culture of the conflicts.

When militants traveled to Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s, they have been joining anything akin to a cult – al Qaeda — which managed their lives, stated 1 official. That’s not how it functions in Syria, the place the organizations are much less centralized and the militants capable to move much more freely. Fighters in Syria are now ready to cross the border into Turkey, fly back to their residence nations, then return to battle once again within a couple of weeks, frequently with like-minded militants in tow, the official mentioned.

That indicates a broader cross-area of Muslim militants is taking component in the fighting, said Kohlmann.

“The chaotic nature of the conflict and the geographic proximity to Europe has opened the door to a motley crew of foreign fighters from about the planet, a lot of of whom wouldn’;t have any chance of reaching a traditional al Qaeda fighting zone like the Afghan-Pakistani border,” he stated. “… They can also be specially tough to track because of the lack of a centralized command or communications framework amid al Qaeda factions in Syria.”

Associated story: Brits Stage Up Arrests of Muslims Allegedly Fighting in Syria

Presently, U.S. and other Western officials have observed militants drawn to the Syrian civil war from Dagestan in Russia, the large Muslim communities of Europe and the jails that were sprung open during the Arab Spring.

Kohlmann mentioned that the fresh troops range from hardened veterans of conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere to the downright eccentric, such as German rapper-turned-jihadist “Deso Dogg.” (Rumors earlier this yr advised “Dogg,” whose actual name is Denis Mamadou Gerhard Cuspert, had vanished and was wounded or dead in Syria, but he later released a statement indicating that he continues to battle Assad’s forces in Syria.)

Michael Koslowski / dapd by means of AP

Rapper Deso Dogg, who converted to Islam in 2010, shouts into a megaphone for the duration of a rally in Bonn, Germany, in 2012.

American Muslims are joining the fray as well, but U.S. officials are unwilling to estimate how numerous have produced the journey. They do not decrease the risk of returning terrorists, nevertheless.

Kohlman said that is a reflection of the mobility and diversity of the jihadis fighting in Syria.

“The reasonably porous condition of Syrian borders — specifically with Turkey and, till just lately, Lebanon — has allowed foreign militants affiliated with al Qaeda to enter and leave Syria nearly at will,” he mentioned. “Once in a neighboring country like Lebanon or Turkey, these individuals are a single non-quit flight away from almost anyplace in Western Europe, and even components of the United States.”

1st published April 8 2014, 1:43 AM

Robert Windrem

Robert Windrem is an investigative reporter/producer with NBC News. His specialty is international security, on-camera commentary on worldwide security for MSNBC and writer on worldwide protection for NBCNews.com

Winner of 45 national journalism awards, such as an Emmy as properly as Dupont-Columbia, Nationwide Press Club, Sigma Delta Chi, 3 Edward R. Murrow and 8 Nationwide Headliners Club awards. He has also been nominated for an Emmy 19 occasions.

Windrem created the very first report on U.S. tv on Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda in January 1997 created the very first inside search of CIA Headquarters on U.S. tv in February 1994 organized and made exclusive interviews with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in New York in September 2006, and in Tehran in July 2008. He also developed extensive reviews on “Nightly Information” concerning nuclear proliferation in Israel, South Africa, Iraq and Iran as well as reviews on the Mexican drug wars al Qaeda US drone attacks in Pakistan, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Washington, D.C., snipers campaign finance scandals, defense procurement abuse, and intelligence technology, amongst many other people.

He contributed to NBC News documentaries on the war on terrorism, Hurricane Katrina and nuclear technique.

Windrem co-wrote with William E. Burrows, “Crucial Mass: the Hazardous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World”, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994.

He has appeared far more than 300 occasions as an expert on national safety troubles on MSNBC, NBC News and CNBC as well as CBC in Canada, BBC in the Uk, Channel 2 in Israel and ABC in Australia. Most lately he served as a consultant on an Israeli Television documentary on Arnon Milchan, the Hollywood producer and arms dealer.

He is a graduate of Seton Hall University with a degree in communications arts. He also pursued a graduate degree in American Studies at Seton Hall.

… Broaden Bio

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